Ethernet equipment

Extreme Lathers Up Soapstone Plans

The dream of a virtual control plane preached by Soapstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SOAP) will live on at Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), but probably won't have the same scope.

What Soapstone had in mind was a way to provision services through the network even if the path went through multiple vendors' boxes. Ideally, that would be possible for any combination of vendors.

Now that the technology is in Extreme's hands, though, it's less likely to apply to networks built on competing switches and routers, says Michael Howard, principal analyst for Infonetics Research Inc.

"I think they will limit the scope of what Soapstone was trying to achieve, to their own noncompeting partners and PBB-TE ecosystem," Howard says. So, Soapstone's multivendor provisioning might still be applied to combinations of, say, optical gear, broadband equipment, and Extreme's switches and routers.

Soapstone gave up the ghost last month after failing to land a satisfactory deal to save or sell the company. Rather than continue struggling, the board chose to call it quits and disperse cash to shareholders. (See Soapstone Washes Out and Don't Pick Up the Soapstone.)

Most observers figured Soapstone's technology would live on, and sure enough, Extreme announced this week that it had bought Soapstone's software and technology. (See Extreme Buys Soapstone Assets.)

Extreme had a pretty good reason for buying the assets of Soapstone: Potential customers are expecting it. In that sense, "it's defensive," Howard says.

In responding to some carrier requests for proposals (RFPs), Extreme had brought Soapstone along, pitching the combination of Extreme's EPICenter management software and Soapstone's Provider Network Controller (PNC). The companies were able to show Soapstone doing tasks like provisioning backup paths within 50 milliseconds of a failure. Extreme also included Soapstone in some tradeshow demos. (See Extreme Demos at NXTcomm.)

"We had a number of engagements that we were working on with them jointly, at the RFP stage, but none of them had actually closed yet," says Glenn Weinberg, vice president of Extreme's software group. He confirms that Soapstone had no paying customers of its own, which becomes apparent when you see the company's final earnings statement.

Extreme had no provisioning software of its own, so the Soapstone partnership filled an important gap, adding depth to Extreme's discussions with carriers. "It's really changing it from a box conversation to a service conversation," says Mark Showalter, Extreme's director of service provider marketing.

Software is increasingly becoming the way that switches and routers can distinguish themselves from the crowd, Howard says. The trend of converging networks has carriers expecting a given router to handle consume services, business services, and mobile backhaul. "In order to do that, it takes more software," he says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, and Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:58:37 PM
re: Extreme Lathers Up Soapstone Plans

I liked the idea of a third-party, multivendor control plane.  It's no surprise Soapstone's technology wound up in a vendor's hands, but it would have been interesting to see what an independent company could do with it.

Then there's the more dire question: If Soapstone had lived, how long could Light Reading have gone before running out of "soap" puns?

fstrimling 12/5/2012 | 3:58:31 PM
re: Extreme Lathers Up Soapstone Plans

It is unfortunate, yet not unexpected, that Soapstone could not turn the company into a management powerhouse.  If ever we needed a heterogenous control plane, then the time is now.  As carriers continue to deploy multiple Network Equipment Vendors (NEPs) into their netowrks, management continues to be an after-thought.  As cloud computing (or the flavor of the year) continues to evolve, a true services/network control plane is required.  We cannot continue to focus on server and virtualization management while ignoring the network and storage components; not to mention security.  I hope Extreme continues the vision of Soapstone or, at the very least, does not destroy the technology.

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